The eternal John Riggins

Thirty years ago today, at the age of 35, John Riggins carried 32 times for 165 yards as the Redskins whipped the Cowboys, 34-14. Three decades later, his yardage total is still the highest for a 35-or-older back — by 21. Indeed, it’s reasonable to wonder whether his age-group records will ever be broken.

After all, it’s been a decade since a back that old rushed for even 100 yards in a game (the Cardinals’ Emmitt Smith, 106 vs. the Seahawks in 2004). In fact, since Riggins retired after the 1985 season, only Smith (twice) and Marcus Allen (also twice) have topped 100 after turning 35.

It’s so rare for a back to last that long — that is, and still be in decent working order. Tony Richardson played fullback for the Jets until he was 39, but he was a blocker, not a runner. Riggins at 35 was still a franchise back, spry enough to rush for 1,239 yards — almost all of them between the tackles — and to carry 20 times a game (327 in all).

Maybe it was the sabbatical year he took in 1980, when he held out for money and didn’t get it. Maybe that’s why Riggo was so good at such an advanced age. Or maybe it was just genes, an innate Kansas Farm Boy Indestructibility. Whatever the reason, we may never see his like again. So I thought I’d give him a shout-out on the 30th anniversary of one of his greatest games.

Since 1960, there have been only 14 100-yard rushing games by backs 35 or older. Riggins has eight of them. Nobody else has more than two. He was amazing then, and he’s amazing now.


Date Running Back (Age),Team Opponent Att Yds TD
10-14-84 John Riggins (35), Redskins Cowboys 32 165 0
10-1-78 McArthur Lane (36), Chiefs Bills 17 144 0
9-23-84 John Riggins (35), Redskins Patriots 33 140 1
10-3-04 Emmitt Smith (35), Cardinals Saints 21 127 1
12-3-95 Marcus Allen (35), Chiefs Raiders 21 124 1
10-22-95 Marcus Allen (35), Chiefs Broncos 21 121 1
10-13-85 John Riggins (36), Redskins Lions 21 114 3
10-27-85 John Riggins (36), Redskins Browns 30 112 1
12-9-84 John Riggins (35), Redskins Cowboys 24 111 1
10-24-04 Emmitt Smith (35), Cardinals Seahawks 26 106 1

FYI: Riggins’ 1,239 rushing yards in ’84 are the most by a 35-or-older back by 302. (Next: Smith, ’04 Cardinals, 937.) And his 327 carries that season are the most by a 35-or-older back by 60. (Next: Smith, ’04 Cardinals, 267.)